What Does My Child's School or Sports Physical Include?

Your child’s first day of prac­tice is around the cor­ner. You bought them their new gym shoes, kicked a ball around with them in the yard, and had the good sports­man­ship talk.

Before you know it, the new school year will be here. You’ve stocked up on mark­ers and note­books, set up the car­pool, and promised your child that you won’t embar­rass them on the first day.

And in the midst of this back-to-school and new sea­son flur­ry, you have for­got­ten about some­thing they may need in order to go to school or play a sport: a phys­i­cal exam.

Whether your child is gear­ing up for a sum­mer pro­gram, the next school year, or the upcom­ing ath­let­ic sea­son, they may be required to get a school or sports phys­i­cal.

Here is what you and your child can expect dur­ing these appointments:

School Phys­i­cals

School-aged chil­dren should get reg­u­lar check-ups — the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics rec­om­mends get­ting one once a year from age 3 to 21 — but there are also cer­tain check-ups that are required by schools.

Also read, The Back-to-School Checklist

Illi­nois school phys­i­cal forms are due no lat­er than Octo­ber 15th — and indi­vid­ual school dis­tricts are per­mit­ted to estab­lish their own dead­line, mean­ing some may be earlier.

A school phys­i­cal has sev­er­al parts:


Get­ting shots prob­a­bly isn’t on your child’s list of favorite activ­i­ties, but immu­niza­tions are crit­i­cal for keep­ing them and oth­ers safe from poten­tial­ly life-threat­en­ing ill­ness­es. Cer­tain vac­cines are also required by the state at spe­cif­ic ages in order for your child to attend school.

Your child won’t need every shot at every check-up. But at some point, they will be required to get vac­ci­nat­ed against:

  • Diph­the­ria, per­tus­sis (whoop­ing cough), and tetanus 
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella 
  • Polio
  • Haemophilus influen­zae type b (Hib)
  • Inva­sive Pneu­mo­coc­cal Dis­ease (PCV)
  • Vari­cel­la (chick­en pox)
  • Hepati­tis B
  • Meningo­coc­cal disease

There are also option­al, rec­om­mend­ed vac­cines — like those for HPV, COVID-19, and influen­za — that your child may be able to get dur­ing their check-up. 

Your child may be able to receive required and/​or rec­om­mend­ed vac­cines at their well check-up or phys­i­cal appoint­ment. How­ev­er, depend­ing on your indi­vid­ual insur­ance cov­er­age, you may need to receive vac­cines through your local health department.

Health His­to­ry

The health his­to­ry por­tion of the school phys­i­cal is exact­ly what it sounds like. The provider will ask about your child’s cur­rent and past:

  • Aller­gies
  • Med­ical con­di­tions and symp­toms, such as dia­betes, seizures, blood dis­or­ders, heart mur­murs, or bone and joint problems
  • Birth defects
  • Surg­eries
  • Hos­pi­tal­iza­tions
  • Alco­hol, drug, or tobac­co use
  • Vision or hear­ing problems
  • Seri­ous injuries or illnesses
  • Den­tal care (includ­ing braces, bridges, and plates)
  • Devel­op­men­tal delays

This is when they may also ask about fam­i­ly med­ical his­to­ry, like if there is a his­to­ry of sud­den death before age 50. 

The health his­to­ry por­tion of the exam helps the provider get a more com­plete pic­ture of your child’s health. Learn­ing about fam­i­ly med­ical his­to­ry allows the provider to iden­ti­fy if your child may be at high risk for cer­tain diseases.

Phys­i­cal Exam and Screenings

Dur­ing the phys­i­cal exam, your child’s provider will take a look at your child’s height and weight, lis­ten to their heart­beat, check vital signs like blood pres­sure and pulse, assess their nutri­tion, and iden­ti­fy signs of poten­tial men­tal health concerns.

This part of the exam also includes screen­ing your child for dia­betes and risk of lead poisoning.

Check­ing things like weight and heart­beat are sim­ple, yet they pro­vide help­ful infor­ma­tion about if your child is devel­op­ing at the right pace, or how dif­fer­ent parts of your child’s body are functioning. 

Lab­o­ra­to­ry Tests

Get­ting blood drawn, uri­nat­ing into a cup — more of your child’s favorites, right?

Just like vac­cines, these tests aren’t fun, but they are important. 

While not always required, your child’s provider may rec­om­mend lab tests to mon­i­tor your child’s cho­les­terol, test for tuber­cu­lo­sis, detect iron defi­cien­cy, or look for kid­ney prob­lems if they sus­pect that your child has kid­ney disease.

Ready to sched­ule your child’s school or sports phys­i­cal? Reach out to a Duly Health and Care pedi­a­tri­cian or fam­i­ly med­i­cine provider, or sched­ule an appoint­ment online.

Sports Phys­i­cals

If you have a young ath­lete on your hands, they might need a sports phys­i­cal (also called a prepar­tic­i­pa­tion phys­i­cal eval­u­a­tion) in addi­tion to their school phys­i­cal. These phys­i­cals can iden­ti­fy risks for injury or ill­ness, and ensure that your child will be healthy and safe when play­ing sports. 

Sports phys­i­cals are often sim­i­lar to school phys­i­cals — your child’s provider will ask about your child’s health his­to­ry and per­form a gen­er­al phys­i­cal exam that includes height, weight, and oth­er vital signs. How­ev­er, sports phys­i­cals focus more heav­i­ly on aspects of your child’s health that could affect their abil­i­ty to safe­ly play sports. 

The exam may include:

  • Screen­ing for heart, neu­ro­log­i­cal, and bone and joint health
  • Screen­ing to see if your child may be at a high­er risk for heat-relat­ed injuries and illnesses
  • Nutri­tion­al assessment
  • Men­tal health exam
  • Edu­ca­tion about heat and hydration
  • Dis­cus­sion about con­cerns unique to female ath­letes (such as men­stru­a­tion) or dis­abled athletes

Chil­dren who par­tic­i­pate in a school-spon­sored ath­let­ic pro­gram in Illi­nois are required to get a sports phys­i­cal every year. (They do not need a sep­a­rate sports phys­i­cal in sixth and ninth grades, when school phys­i­cals are required.) 

The Next Steps

Even if your child isn’t an ath­lete or they aren’t in a grade where they are required to have a school phys­i­cal, we rec­om­mend that all chil­dren get a check-up every year. See­ing their pri­ma­ry care provider reg­u­lar­ly is a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for you to receive help­ful insight into how your child is grow­ing and devel­op­ing, and what to expect as they con­tin­ue to grow.

Reach out to a Duly Health and Care pedi­a­tri­cian or fam­i­ly med­i­cine provider to sched­ule an appoint­ment and ensure that your child is up to date with their health­care needs.

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  • Justyna Antczak, MD - Orland Park Pediatricians

    I strive to be a compassionate caregiver and treat my patients like family. I encourage patients and their families to be active participants in their care. I work hard to meet all my patients’ medical and emotional needs.